Brandeis alumna and Fellow Bobbi Samuels recently donated a $10 million gift to Brandeis, which will be used to establish a new center at the University that focuses on civic and community engagement. 

The center will be called the Vic and Bobbi Samuels ’63 Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation. It was donated in honor of Bobbi’s husband, Vic, who passed away in 2020. The two met while studying at Brandeis, and they married a week after their graduation in 1963. 

The aim of the new center is to provide a space and opportunity for students, faculty, staff, researchers, and others to come together to work on civic transformation in an interdisciplinary context. The center hopes to encourage students to use what they learn in their various classes to address needs within the Brandeis community, the greater Waltham community, and broader society in a creative way. 

The Samuels Center plans include diverse programs for both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, staff, and other practitioners across various fields. The Community Engaged Scholars Program is an example of one of these initiatives that are in the works. The CESP program, expected to launch in fall 2022, will allow students to integrate their academics with their extracurricular activities, so students can combine what they have learned in the classroom with their social justice pursuits. The program will include a stipend so all students can have the opportunity to be involved without letting financial burdens act as a barrier. 

In an article on Brandeis’ alumni page, Dororthy Hogdsen, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said “the Samuels Center will serve as a vibrant incubator for many faculty, across fields and schools, who are already engaged in a diverse array of community research and teaching projects in the U.S. and abroad.” The same article included a list of some of the many issues that the center will be focusing on, including but not limited to: “prison outreach and education, supporting people with disabilities, legal aid clinics, climate justice, domestic violence, [and] mobilizing women’s groups in rural areas overseas.” 

The Center cites Brandeis’ Framework for Future Connection as its inspiration and basis. The Framework’s intention is to serve as a guideline for the future of the University, and includes its major ethoses, values, and goals. It was released in 2020, after three years of research and contemplation, and Brandeis asserts that they commit themselves to reengaging with the founding ideas of the school. 

The Framework states that the University’s values are deeply rooted in the millennia-old Jewish tradition, specifically referencing tikkun olam –– repairing the world with one’s gifts. A goal of the University that was written in the Framework was to establish a center for civic engagement in order to provide an opportunity for Brandeis’ students, faculty, and staff to work towards repairing the world. The donation from Bobbi Samuels and the subsequent establishment of the new Samuels’ Center is a direct response to this goal. 

In a Jan. 4 email to the Brandeis community, President Ron Leibowitz stated, “We are grateful to the Samuels family, and we will use their generosity as a tool to shape our communities –– and our world –– for the better, and illuminate Vic’s legacy for generations to come.”

Brandeis students have a rich history in community service and volunteering. Through the Waltham Group, which was founded in 1996, more than 20,000 students have been involved in some form of volunteer work, with over 30,000 hours clocked annually, according to President Leibowitz, in the same email to the Brandeis community, stated that due to the strong atmosphere of civil action and social justice at Brandeis, the University “identified the need for a unifying structure that would build upon and further our institution’s strong culture of community engagement. With this new center, we will be well-positioned to realize our goal by combining the very best of Brandeis’ cutting-edge research, scholarship, and creative work as each relates to volunteer service.”